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Paul Thomas Anderson Secretly Premieres 'The Master' In Santa Monica; First Reactions Are Largely Wildly Positive

by Oliver Lyttelton
August 4, 2012 8:39 AM
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The Master, full trailer

You have to hand it to Paul Thomas Anderson. Five years ago, the director unveiled his last film, "There Will Be Blood," as a surprise at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, skipping the established festival circuit entirely for a film that turned out to be the best received of 2007. It seemed, briefly, that his follow-up, "The Master," might have a more conventional release strategy for an awards-type film, with news leaking out that the film was set to premiere at Venice before going on to TIFF, perhaps suggesting a more conventional type of marketing push from distributors The Weinstein Company.

But trust Anderson to pull a surprise somewhere down the line. Rather than a glitzy red carpet premiere at an international festival, the first public screening of "The Master" took place last night, unannounced, after an American Cinematheque screening of Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, CA. Projected in Anderson's preferred format of 70mm, almost no one knew that it was happening in advance, but word soon leaked out to In Contention, among others.

It's a pretty great way of letting the film get its time in the festival sun and yet still zag where some expected it to zig, and we wonder if similar secret screenings might take place in the run up to the film's opening date on September 14th. Inevitably, of course, word started to leak out about the film on Twitter from those lucky so-and-sos who were there: we've rounded up the reactions, so far, which seem to be pretty positive, from breathless raves to a little more guarded, but still enthusiastic. Have a look below, and we'll update when more come in.

@michaelwhittle  "Possibly the best film watching experience I've ever had. #THEMASTER70MM"

@TotallySketch (Michael Gallagher) "Just saw 'The Master'. A movie has never made me feel quite like this one did. I can't describe it or even rate it. I am speechless."

@aaldere1 (Andrew P Alderete, "The Social Network" producer Dana Brunetti's assistant) "The Master was amazing. Oscars all over this one."

@LoganDoe  "@prfessorbigsock Hoffman is one of the finest actors alive. The Master is (more) proof. #themaster"

@pillowfightin "@cigsandredvines Saw The Master in 70mm at the Aero Santa Monica. Surprise screening after The Shining. Its like nothing yvever seen before."

@jessecrall "The Master: B+ hazy, meandering story with beautiful staging and headed by Phoenix's brilliant, year's-best performance. @kristapley"

@Super_Matts "THE MASTER is...interesting...I'll be thinking about it for days #THEMASTER70MM J Phoenix and P S Hoffman are out of this world"

@DubstepElitist "duuuuuude, the master was goooooooooood"

And the most extensive reaction so far comes from 16-year-old cinephile Victor Escobar: his tweets after the film can be found below.

"@scottEweinberg Of course! Don't want to say more than a few words about it but it is an all around excellent film."

"@MattMustin @scottEweinberg No doubt about it. I've yet to see one bad PSH performance but this one may be his best."

"@prfessorbigsock 2hrs 10 min. Will get nods for Picture. Good chance of winning original screenplay and acting awards."

"@TheDaltonator If it were me, I'd put them both in the Best Actor category but if one them is getting the supporting nod, its Hoffman."

"@GusCruz At winning? No. It will have its fair share of detractors and its not a "safe" choice."

"If you guys can, see The Master in 70 mm. Looked gorgeous and its the way P.T Anderson wants you to see it. "

Jeff Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere also has a source, "bobfilm," who was there last night, and sent along a reaction, which perhaps suggest that it may not be terribly accessible, but that Phoenix is particularly good.

"I'm still digesting everything I saw, but it was pretty amazing. It was like a strange fever dream. [But] not audience friendly AT ALL. An ambiguous ending and not one likable character. And without any 'milkshake' lines, it probably won't have the breakthrough that There Will Be Blood had... There are three or four scenes between Phoenix and Hoffman that are barn burners. It also containts the best work Amy Adams has ever done... Phoenix WILL win Best Actor unless Daniel Day Lewis blows us away with [his] Lincoln performance. This is Raging Bull territory for him. Believe it or not, his performance is stranger than that fake doc he made. The only way I can describe him is 'animalistic.' (I think the Master title refers to more of a dog and his master. At least that was the vibe I got).. The style feels like Terrence Malick by way of There Will Be Blood."

Exciting stuff. "The Master" will, it would seem, officially premiere in Venice on September 1st before heading to Toronto, and then rolling out in limited release on September 14th.

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  • Soli | August 8, 2012 8:27 AMReply

    THERE WILL BE BLOOD premiered at the Berlin Film Festival!

  • Rodrigo @ The Playlist | August 8, 2012 9:33 AM

    Erroneous. It did not "premiere." It played there in the winter of 2008, well after it had already been released in the U.S. They first played clips at Telluride september 2007, debuted the first official screening at Fantastic Fest in late september 2007 and then it opened in limited release on December 26, 2007 (by then it had screened for critics in early December).

    It's Berlin International Film Festival appearance was on February 8, 2008. Not sure why everyone insists it "premiered" in Berlin.

  • Sameen | August 5, 2012 1:53 PMReply

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  • heyman29323 | August 5, 2012 11:40 AMReply

    I am what you would call a fanboy I guess (I would call it a fan- albeit a huge fan) and I think Anderson can do no wrong. But I read a very early draft of the screenplay, with no real scenes of him in the navy at all, but the rest seems to be there in the trailer, but I do remember thinking after I read it something was missing, almost more like Punch Drunk Love in the way it's not huge in it's scope. It is only about the very beginning of the "Cause" and doesn't really get into it too much. And a film about such a topic you would think would be a little epic in the way of "There Will Be Blood" I hope it's amazing, and I know I am going to love it no matter what, but I'm afraid others might be let down and if the rewrite doesn't fill in whatever I felt was missing. Which I am not sure what that was.

  • Jason | August 5, 2012 10:24 AMReply

    This has created quite the reaction online! Some call it a masterpiece and others say something is missing from the finished film. I think this might be one those films that will some will "get", and some will completely hate.... Like TWBB this could be a classic in a few years!

  • Brian | August 5, 2012 4:00 AMReply

    Scott and others are flinging the term "fanboy" around too haphazardly. Fanboys are people who can't accept that you might not be as impressed with a film, band, game, etc. as they are and lash out. This combativeness is an odd phenomenon, no doubt. But so is being upset that others feel positively about something they saw. Your writing off those reviews as idolatry is even more presumptuous than the attitudes you are railing against.

  • Martin | August 5, 2012 2:07 AMReply

    Wow. Film fans huh? You all sound extremely fun to watch films with. I like that supposed "cinephiles" use the insult "fanboys" as well. You know what fanboys were 10 years ago? Fans. That's it. Now it's not cool to really enjoy something? Anywho, I'm excited to see The Master, really excited. We have a few directors like PTA left. Ones that actually care about you checkin out his film in the proper format, in the right setting. I'm sure you'll put a cynical spin on that so have at film buffs.

  • TJ | August 4, 2012 9:42 PMReply

    Thank you, Scott, I posted your comments on imdb's boards where there are topics on there already declaring, sight unseen, that The Master is the greatest film of all time. How dumb has our culture gotten?

  • cadavra | August 4, 2012 6:24 PMReply

    Watching the movie last night, I was reminded of something that happened 40 years ago, when Coppola was being pressured to bring in GODFATHER at a "reasonable" length. He finally got it down to just over two hours and showed it to Robert Evans. When it was over, Evans said, "You've shown me a great trailer. Now show me a great movie." And Coppola went back and restored everything he'd cut. I had the same feeling here. The performances, period look and cinematography are wonderful, but it feels like 85% of a great movie, with the other 15% still in the cutting room. Subplots are set up and then discarded. Characters turn up without any sort of introduction. Motivations are frequently abrupt and unjustified (granted this last might be deliberate). And sorry, but people didn't sling "fuck" around so freely in the 1950s--especially in front of women. I just wish he and the editor could go back and take one more pass at it, but obviously there's no time. Still very worth seeing, but not what it might've been.

  • Andre | August 4, 2012 9:31 PM

    Having read what I presume what was an early draft of the script I found on Bittorrent a few months ago, I don't think what I saw last night was a victim of editing under external pressure. On the contrary, the first act has additional scenes that make for a stronger setup than the screenplay I read. Many of the "processing" scenes are much longer than they were originally written, and better for it—contrary to what I expected, since I thought that the script suffered from relying on Scientology rituals that were too "inside baseball" for mainstream audiences.

    You wrote, "Subplots are set up and then discarded. Characters turn up without any sort of introduction. Motivations are frequently abrupt and unjustified (granted this last might be deliberate)," but that's the way it is in the script. The only subplot that was dropped that I could see was "Book Two" becoming a MacGuffin to be stolen.

    I expected the finished film to be better than what I read—and it was. But the premise of making a film "about Scientology" is too broad for a cohesive plot—hence all the false starts.

  • Joshua | August 4, 2012 6:02 PMReply

    Fanboys. Sheesh.

    The film is meandering, shallow, pointless and really not good. It's visually stunning- a gorgeous film to look at but (and this is neither old fashioned nor passe) I challenge anyone else there last night to describe why this is worthy of any award outside of cinematography. Phoenix is a snarling one dimensional freak, PSH is a place holder and every other piece of talent is wasted. The script, if one really exists, may have been written by a (possibly drunk) 10 year old who was assigned a paper on what the first year of Scientology may have looked like. With much instruction to improvise. This is a smart way to create positive propaganda but eventually cooler (smarter) heads will prevail and see this for what it is. B-A-D.

  • LA2000 | August 5, 2012 10:39 AM

    Simmer down, Tom Cruise.

  • God | August 4, 2012 9:55 PM

    So, you actually saw this last night?

  • Pierre | August 4, 2012 3:23 PMReply

    I don't know about you guys, but the only reactions I trust are those from DubstepElitist.

  • Zack | August 4, 2012 4:31 PM

    Better him than that ruffian DubstepProletarian.

  • oogle monster | August 4, 2012 2:40 PMReply

    Looks like it's more Hoffman's movie than Phoenix? Hmmm. Also, I don't trust a 16 year old
    "cinephile" that hasn't seen TWBB. Boy, please!

  • d | August 4, 2012 6:10 PM

    What makes you think that? Here are the acting mentions: "Hoffman is one of the finest actors alive." "Phoenix's brilliant, year's-best performance." "J Phoenix and P S Hoffman are out of this world." "Phoenix WILL win Best Actor." And the 16-yr-old says Hoffman is great, but more likely to go supporting of the two.

  • DG | August 4, 2012 1:21 PMReply

    I like hyperbole it's fun

  • DG | August 4, 2012 1:06 PMReply

    Ahhhhh! I was in Santa Monica last night and I missed this

  • frank | August 4, 2012 3:19 PM

    oh man! so many people were in Santa Monica last night that also missed this. bummer.

  • Glass | August 4, 2012 11:41 AMReply

    lol @ that insufferable '16 year old cinephile' slingin Oscar talk like he's an obnoxious assistant at a talent agency.

  • Lorenzo | August 4, 2012 10:28 AMReply

    So it won't be at Venice Film Festival. Not in competition anyway, it would be an infringement of the rules (world premieres only). It still may screen out of competition but it seems unlikely.

  • Lorenzo | August 4, 2012 6:26 PM

    No, it was a public screening.

  • randy | August 4, 2012 3:11 PM

    it was a private screening so no rule infringement here

  • Scott | August 4, 2012 10:08 AMReply

    This article is a good indicator that the entire film industry awards system, whether they're the Oscars, Golden Globes, major festivals like Toronto or Sundance, the Independent Spirit Awards, etc., are pre-determined and therefore not at all important. Even before this film was shown publicly, people were saying that it's going to be nominated for awards, that it was going to be the "best film of the year," along with all of the other platitudes lobbed at end-of-year movies that seem to be taylored and produced for the sole purpose of garnering awards and prestigious accolades.

    I get the feeling that the "Tweets" quoted in the article were written by people who had already made up their minds that the Master would be a "great film," or "one of the year's best" before they saw even so much as a trailer.

    The press, film blogs, and reviewers are also guilty of casting certain films with praise before they're even released publicly by arbitrarily setting certain films aside forlevels of prestige based on the director, the performer, and most often, based on the ad campaigns launched by the studios. This predetermination of "greatness" is so much worse when the movie hasn't even been released. Jeff Wells in the above article points out the possibility that Daniel Day Lewis' performance of Abe Lincoln is already Oscar-worthy, yet a trailer hasn't even been released.

    Where is the fun in discovering good films, if you've already determined which movies are going to be great, when you haven't even watched them?

    The Master looks like an interesting film, based on the trailer (and not at all based on the platitudes of greatness attributed by the PT Anderson fanboys), but I will hold off making an opnion until I actually see it. Whenever I watch a PT Anderson movie, one of my first thoughts is that I could be watching a Robert Altman movie, or, in the case of There Will be Blood, a John Huston movie, and it would be so much better.

    I am so sick of blind fanboy love.

  • MDL | August 6, 2012 9:07 PM

    I hear what you are saying but we have reached a stage in internet culture where there is no going back. Yes, fanboys exist but can you honestly say you have never been excited about a particular movie? Maybe not a PT Anderson movie but surely some director or some new movie out there gets your adreneline going. At least I hope it does otherwise you'd probably never go to movies.

    Part of the problem I have with your view is that you don't see both sides of your argument. Just as surely as there are fanboys who love a movie before it comes out there are anti-fanboys [such as yourself] who will hate a movie because everyone else loves it. Suddenly a favorite movie becomes overrated to be replaced by an underrated one. It's all a game. The key is don't play the game. Just go see the movie and judge the movie on its own merits. Can you do that? Many of us can.

  • Brian | August 5, 2012 3:47 AM

    Do you realize your response to the enthusiasm over the film is just as jury-rigged as you are suggesting said enthusiasm is?

  • Robert Frenay | August 4, 2012 6:02 PM

    What you're responding to, Scott, is a culture of hyperbole. It's symptomatic of the internet age and the cult-like dedication of rabid fandom. Everybody is desperate to find the "Next Best Thing," and though it can certainly get exhausting and obnoxious at times, I think the impulse of hoping to experience something that will blow you away is really quite optimistic and endearing. Regardless, I don't believe you're correct about the results of such aggressive, exaggerated predictions. Think back as recently as "Prometheus" or "The Dark Knight Rises"--early buzz on both of those films would have led one to believe they were the Second Comings, yet when they finally arrived, reaction was mixed at best and skewed toward the negative at worst. In this case, perhaps such disappointment was the result of overblown expectations, but then still, the predictions did not dictate the course of critical reception. This hype is a game, then, that everyone plays--people absolutely love PTA (I count myself among the ranks) and are likely too quick to proclaim his next work The Best Movie Ever, but it still is not a foregone conclusion that when it ultimately arrives, it will be such. Expectations can probably effect the public reaction to a film in both positive and negative ways, but I do not believe that the path to accolades is quite so linear as you seem to think. A film still must stand on its own merits, and ultimately lives or dies on those.

  • LOU | August 4, 2012 12:25 PM

    Well said, SCOTT. I totally share your views.

  • Scott | August 4, 2012 12:11 PM

    This non-news article is like an extention of the film's PR department. A handful of people watched the Master, proclaimed its brilliance, parroting previous blogs that said the film will be a masterpiece (despite anyone having seen it). I'm not criticizing the movie, or the opnions of the few people who have seen it, but all of this points to a type of herd mentality that exists in this sort of internet film writing. So now I'm a "tool," (A tool of what? I'm never sure what this term means) and I need to get fucked with a pitchfork for pointing this out. I've been insulted by anonymous fanboys on the internet. Gee, now what am I going to do with my life? And did you know that Daniel Day Lewis' performance as Abe Lincoln is staggeringly genius?

  • -- | August 4, 2012 11:48 AM

    "This article is a good indicator that the entire film industry awards system, whether they're the Oscars, Golden Globes, major festivals like Toronto or Sundance, the Independent Spirit Awards, etc., are pre-determined and therefore not at all important"
    That doesn't follow from anything that you said. You're a tool.
    That's all.

  • Scott | August 4, 2012 10:48 AM

    I didn't say that the Master would be a bad movie. I only said that the trailer looks interesting, and based on that, I would be willing to give it a chance. The funny, outraged person who replied to my post is also a symptom of the fanboy internet culture that arbitrarily sets aside certain movies for predetermined greatness; when you refuse to point out an unreleased film's "Greatness," get ready for the impotent rage and anonymous personal attacks of people who would never have the nerve to show such outrage if the anonymity of the internet didn't exist.

    "All of Hollywood got together this year and said, "We're gonna let PTA have it this year, he's done all of the right work and he's finally at an age worthy of receiving our Oscar, despite none of us having ever saw his film." " Yes, this is exactly my point. This is how Oscar winners/nominees are chosen.

    And no, I did not say that people could not have their own opnions. In fact, we would all be better movie goers and analyzers of art in general if we didn't have people telling us what is good and what isn't even before a movie is released.

    "If you've got nothing constructive to say about the film..." You're right, I have nothing contructive to say about the Master, because I haven't seen it, and it hasn't even been released yet. My post was about the blind adulation given to movies that have not been released, which Hazel apparently buys into very easily. As I have said, I want to watch the Master. But I'm not going to heap praise upon it because the internet blog culture won't stop gushing about what a great film it is.

    Have fun being angry, fanboy.

  • hazel | August 4, 2012 10:33 AM

    Nothing will ever satisfy people like this. They'll spend every year harking back to the day when "films were good", before the internet told you what to like. Yep, it's all a conspiracy. All of Hollywood got together this year and said, "We're gonna let PTA have it this year, he's done all of the right work and he's finally at an age worthy of receiving our Oscar, despite none of us having ever saw his film." I'm sure that's exactly what happened.
    What's wrong with you that you can't just let people get excited about a new film. Do you always have to be the guy that stands by and casts out the cynical view? "You're not gonna like it in a couple of months!" , "you only like it because the internet fanboys tell you too", "you're an ape that can't think for it's self".
    Please, do everyone a favor and just move the fuck on. If you've got nothing constructive to say about the film and your only purpose here is to brag about how you're better than everyone who's seen a movie that you have not seen, then please, just ignore us. Leave the cynicism to the aintitcool forums. Or if you can't do that, kindly fuck yourself with a pitchfork.

  • [A] | August 4, 2012 10:01 AMReply

    UGH I still have to wait until november!!

  • Amanda | August 4, 2012 9:36 AMReply

    I cant wait for this movie. great for Joaquin. ugh Amy Adams will be nominated and lose again. I can't.

  • Jeni | August 4, 2012 9:19 AMReply

    Weeping at the reactions! ALL THE AWARDS

  • [A] | August 4, 2012 10:01 AM

    That's kinda childish.

  • TXW | August 4, 2012 9:01 AMReply

    Oh boy. I guess I'll be the first to say it: Will this play the AFI Silver in 70mm during their Kubrick retrospective? The Shining is playing Aug 31 and the next 70mm screening is 2001 on Sept 2... This theater has already been bandied about by some as a likely spot for The Master to play in 70mm during its actual theatrical run

  • Rudebard Baken | August 4, 2012 3:04 PM

    I hope this comes to fruition true but I don't see it. Santa Monica is much closer to PTA's homebase and AFI Silverspring isn't known for these type of drops. I think the only coincidence is the Kubrick/70mm

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